Data is driving advances in the automotive industry

Car manufacturers are harnessing data throughout the product lifecycle to continually improve their cars and customer experience.
24 September 2018

Technology is transforming how our cars are made. Source: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images/AFP

Historically, car manufacturers have had limited access to post-sale car performance data and customer satisfaction levels, typically relying on consumer surveys and in-warranty servicing information alone.

Social media, increased car connectivity and inbuilt software have changed this, now automotive manufacturers have access to more data than ever before.

With these new insights comes new opportunities and added value. In fact, research from SNS Telecom & IT estimates that big data investments in the automotive industry will account for more than US$3.3 billion in 2018 alone.

So, how exactly are car manufacturers utilizing data and to improve their products and shore-up their business models?

Over-the-air updates

Ford and General motors, among others, have said that most of their 2020 car models will be equipped for over-the-air (OTA) updates to fix software glitches, for improved performance and functionality. Many manufacturers are already doing this for certain models.

Enabled by connectivity, OTAs mean manufacturers can allow customers to download software updates, just like they would for their phone or computer, without making a visit to their dealership. OTAs have the potential to save the automotive industry millions of pounds by reducing recalls and in-warranty work.

Similarly, using software and connectivity, manufacturers can monitor how drivers use in-car functions, as well as how they perform, and update, fix or adapt them as necessary.

“Manufacturers can determine what the frequently used features are and put in a hard button instead of the customer needing to dive-down into a menu – this improves the overall driving experience,” says Stephen L. Surhigh, Vice President of Automotive Cloud Services for Harman.

Improved Manufacturing

Specific data sets can even be fed into the design and manufacturing processes – all the way from early stage research and development to the manufacturing floor – to improve the final product and speed up its development.

“When it comes to product development, data adds speed and accuracy to designs and manufacturing plans: a digital mock-up enables structural tests and reviews before a design hits the real world,” says Hans-Georg Kaltenbrunner, Vice President Manufacturing Industry Strategy, EMEA at JDA, which provides connected supply chain solutions.

“This follows through to production, where data insight is being used to inform sourcing decisions, helping manufacturers to pinpoint the right moment to purchase and ship components. Manufacturers are even using data to ensure shift patterns match demand on the assembly line.”

For example, according to consultancy BearingPoint, analyzing data helped Jaguar Land Rover cut the product lifecycle of one of its vehicle by a year-and-a-half.

Predict Wear and Tear

Using connectivity and in-car data collection, manufacturers can provide predictive maintenance services to customers, warning them of failures before they happen. This service is particularly attractive to companies operating large fleets of cars, such as mobility firms like Uber.

“If a company has a large fleet of vehicles and it is possible to collect data on how those cars wear and tear, that information is highly valuable,” says Xavier Mosquet, a senior partner at The Boston Consulting Group’s automotive sector.

Similarly, as car manufacturers have access to growing data streams, they can look to monetize it by selling all different kinds of data analytics services, such as how to optimize car performance in different climates.

Increase Mobility Services

Some manufacturers are even working with data companies to help them transition to mobility companies or offer additional services to car fleet customers.

For example, Ford is working with Hortonworks to help the company transition to a car and mobility company.

General Motors last year started offering on subscription the MapAnything app to its GM Fleet customers. The app combines telematics fleet management and customer relationship management software to streamline routes and automate critical business processes.

Overall, big data offers huge potential for car manufacturers now and in the future and although the industry is grappling with changing mindsets, creating better quality data management, sharing, and analytics, many are already utilizing the power of big data, with likely much more to come.